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Can NAHT schools inspection scheme teach Ofsted a lesson?

Headteachers get twitchy as the clock hands tick towards midday. It’s not the lunch bell that fills them with anxiety, it is the spectre of a phone call from Ofsted warning of a visit the next day.

The infamous 12 o’clock call triggers a sequence of events that can make or break a school’s reputation.

Inspectors tell staff to treat their visits as ‘just another day.’ Yeah, right. In reality, already stretched staff check every piece of paperwork, data, lesson plans and pupils’ work. It is a frenzy of activity and worry.

Such visits (on average every two or three years) are artificial and even Ofsted admit that some schools and teachers put on a show, making a mockery of attempts to capture an accurate snapshot. Pupils’ needs risk being put on hold as everyone dances to Ofsted’s tune.

Of course, Ofsted keep changing their criteria for success. A new framework introduced in September 2012 has seen around 75% of previously ‘outstanding’ schools downgraded.

Tick Media has worked with many schools on Ofsted issues and we recognise the effect, both good and bad, that inspections have on staff. Some inspectors are fair and even inspire, some could be considered charmless and robotic producing grey cut and paste reports that mirror their personalties.

Ofsted is a flawed, expensive (it costs us £200m a year) organisation that fails in its sole aim to improve education for our children, says Bernadette Hunter, president of the National Association of Headteachers.

She says the Ofsted inspection regime is based on ‘fear and intimidation’ and is ‘paralysing’ schools. Ofsted inspections certainly dominate, perhaps even suffocate, aspects of school life, especially the staff room.

Ms Hunter told her union’s annual conference in May 2013: “How have we come to a situation where we have allowed a system that is based on fear and intimidation into places of learning? The current inspection system is paralysing schools and preventing genuine improvement and it has become a political tool with the outcomes linked to the threat of academisation.”

A far better system would be one of continuous monitoring and firm, friendly encouragement. After all, that’s what schools do. A pilot scheme being launched by the NAHT in September 2013 will see headteachers share best practice and help each other towards higher standards.

If it helps curb Ofsted’s bullying it can only be ultimately good for our children.

Posted by Peter Harvey: Friday 23rd August 2013